Reproduction and Survival of Yellowstone Bison

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Abstract

ABSTRACT  The conservation of bison (Bison bison) from near extinction to >4,000 animals in Yellowstone National Park has led to conflict regarding overabundance and potential transmission of brucellosis (Brucella abortus) to cattle. We estimated survival and birth rates from 53 radiocollared adult female bison during 1995–2001, and we used calf:adult (C:A) ratios to estimate reproduction with the combined effects of pregnancy, fetal loss, and neonatal mortality during 1970–1997. Annual survival of adult females was high (0.92; 95% CI = 0.87-0.95) and constant. Birth rates differed by brucellosis status and age. Birth rates were 0.40 calves per female (95% CI = 0.15-0.65) for brucellosis-positive 3 year olds, 0.63 (95% CI = 0.39-0.87) for individuals testing negative, and 0.10 (95% CI = 0.00-0.24) for individuals contracting brucellosis that birth year (sero-converters). Birth rates were 0.64 (95% CI = 0.52-0.76) for brucellosis-positive individuals ≥4 years old, 0.81 (95% CI = 0.73-0.89) for brucellosis-negative individuals, and 0.22 (95% CI = 0.00-0.46) for sero-converters. Spring C:A ratios were negatively correlated with snow pack (β = −0.01 to −0.03, R2 = 0.26-0.60, P < 0.05). Growth rate was highly elastic to adult survival (0.51), and juvenile survival (0.36) was 3 times more elastic than fecundity (0.12). Simulations suggested brucellosis eradication via vaccination would result in increased birth rates and a 29% increase in population growth (γ = 1.09), possibly leading to more bison movements outside the park. Our results will help park managers evaluate bison population dynamics and explore consequences of management actions and disease control programs.

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